Correct Saddle Placement
Before fitting the saddle, it must be positioned correctly on the horse's back.
The points of the saddle tree at the front arch should give a full three-fingers width of clearance behind the shoulder blade when the horse is standing straight, or a hand's width with the foreleg fully extended. This can be done by having someone on the ground pull each of the horse's forelegs as far forward as possible, holding the leg at the knee, while another person checks the shoulder blade.
The rider's weight should be carried on the muscles that are over the horse's ribs (from behind the shoulder blades to the last rib). The last rib of the horse should be found, and the saddle should not come behind it.
Many riders put their saddles too far forward, especially those that use jumping saddles. A properly-fitting saddle will "find its own place" when put on over the withers, and then slid back until it will not easily slide further. Even a well-fitting saddle will cause discomfort to the horse and position problems for the rider if it is placed too far forward, creating problems that include:
- Interference with the horse's shoulder blades as it extends the forelegs, folds the legs over fences, or when the leading leg in canter or gallop is in the most rearward position (the top of the shoulder blade can move a full one and a half inches backwards from the standing position during canter and gallop). This also is damaging to the saddle, as it causes the tree to twist.
- Incorrect angle of the seat. When the saddle is too far forward the pommel rises up, tilting the cantle down and moving the seat back, so it is impossible for the rider to maintain a correct balanced position. This not only makes it extremely difficult for the rider to stay balanced, as they are constantly trying to scramble "uphill," but also places the majority of weight close to the cantle, and hence on the horse's loins.
- Harmful pressure areas because the tree points are more likely to dig into the withers. This causes extreme discomfort for the horse, and can produce bald spots and sores.
- Improper positioning of the girth too far forward, which can result in rubbing behind the elbows and lead to girth sores.
- The stirrup bars are placed forward of the natural drop of the stirrups, causing pressure from the rider's feet to push them to go too far forward, resulting in a "chair seat" " position, so that correct balance is very difficult.
Saddles that are placed too far back (a common error made by inexperienced riders first learning to saddle a horse), or saddles with a tree that is too long (for example, a horse-sized saddle placed on a pony) also cause problems for horse and rider, including:
- High risk the saddle will slip sideways. The horse's barrel becomes wider and rounder the farther back it goes, and the withers also become lower before blending into the back altogether, leaving nothing to prevent the saddle from sliding.
- Pressure on the horse's loins, which is not only uncomfortable for the animal, but may cause damage to the spinal column, particularly the lumbar vertebrae, which are not supported by the ribs.
- Pinching and pain in the loins and hips.
- Lack of balance by the rider in the saddle, as the rider will be perpetually behind the motion of the horse.
- Misbehavior by the horse due to discomfort.
- The pommel of the saddle will drop downwards, making the rider 'slide downhill' in the saddle and increasing the risk of a fall over the shoulder.
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“The dress makes the person; the saddle the horse.”